'Street Stories' sacrifices understanding for emotion


January 09, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It used to be that only hit shows had spinoffs. Tonight that changes, as CBS introduces "Street Stories," a spinoff of "48 Hours."

In case you didn't know it, "48 Hours" is not a hit. It is a "reality" show produced by CBS News that stays on the prime-time schedule mainly because it is less expensive to make than a sitcom or drama. In the new downsized universe of network TV, less expensive is what counts. And "Street Stories" looks even less expensive than "48 Hours." It is definitely less expensive than "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," which it replaces on the schedule.

At this point, CBS is committed to only four weeks of "Street Stories" starting at 9 tonight on WBAL-TV (Channel 11). The magazine-style show has "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley as host and features a team of reporters: Bernard Goldberg, Victoria Corderi, Harold Dow, and Bob McKeown (the guy who got to Kuwait first for CBS in the final moments of the Gulf War). Only three of the four segments in tonight's show were available for preview: a story on drunken drivers in Florida, gay bashing in Houston, and an unorthodox judge in Tennessee.

Bradley explains the show and title by saying, "Street scenes are more than asphalt and white lines. . . . It is more a state of mind than a stretch of highway. . . . It is tough, gritty and real."

What that translates to in tonight's show are highly emotional stories about crime, which offer simplistic answers.

For example, in the story on the Tennessee judge, we see him telling criminals, "Get your toothbrush and crying towel, 'cause you're going away." There's a certain rush of satisfaction in seeing justice meted out with such force. But reporter Dow never bothers to find out how often the judge is overturned or otherwise found to be in error. We are given no assessment of his effectiveness. Each of the stories has holes that large in it.

"Street Stories" goes for heat, not light -- emotion, not understanding. It will make you mad, make you sad. It will not make you wiser.

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